GREENBELT, Md. - A NASA-developed innovative process is making waves in the nanotechnology field and spurring the development of new companies in the process. A new company based in Austin, Texas, Nanotailor, has licensed NASA Goddard Space Flight Center's unique single-walled carbon nanotube (SWCNT) fabrication process with plans to make high-quality, low-cost SWCNTs available commercially.
Potential markets for the technology are vast and include medical, construction, manufacturing, and imaging, to name just a few. The license provides Nanotailor a springboard from which to grow its business, while helping to make affordable nanotechnology available to a broad range of industries.
One of the basic nanotechnology structures, a carbon nanotube is a graphite sheet one atomic layer thick of carbon that is wrapped on itself to create an extraordinarily thin, strong tube. Although carbon nanotubes were discovered more than 15 years ago, their use has been limited due to the complex, dangerous, and expensive methods for their production.
This unwieldy process has made SWCNTs cost-prohibitive up until now. "The nanotech industry is growing by more than 40 percent a year, but multi-walled carbon nanotubes have been the primary technology used. Single-walled technology just hasn't taken off because of the cost," notes Nanotailor president Ramon Perales. "If we can get the cost down, we can be a step ahead and make higher quality nanotechnology more affordable."
NASA Goddard, located in Greenbelt, Md. is helping nanotechnology companies like Nanotailor do just that through a simpler, safer, and much less costly manufacturing process for SWCNTs. Developed by retired GSFC researcher Dr. Jeannette Benavides, the key to the innovation is the ability to produce bundles of SWCNTs without using a metal catalyst, dramatically reducing pre- and post-production costs while generating higher yields of better quality product. Other start-up companies that have licensed the process include Idaho Space Materials in Boise and E-City NanoTechnologies in the metro Baltimore area.
With a license agreement in place, Nanotailor has built and tested a prototype based on NASA Goddard's process, and is now working on commercialization efforts with a plan to go to market by the end of 2007.
Device integrators and nanotechnology-based device companies will likely be among Nanotailor's first customers, though the company hopes to cater to a wide variety of industries and research organizations. "All industries currently using multi-walled tubes will be able to benefit from this technology," notes Nanotailor chief technology officer Reginald Parker. "We're lowering the cost per gram while greatly improving the integrity of the nanotubes. A better product at a lower price will help us bring higher quality nanotechnology to biomaterials, advanced materials, space exploration, highway and building construction... the list goes on and on."
This technology transfer success story was made possible by the efforts of NASA's Innovative Partnerships Program (IPP), which has a two-part focus: (1) forming partnerships between NASA and industry, academia, or other government agencies to support the space program and (2) transferring NASA technology to new applications.
"NASA is committed to working with small businesses so they may be successful. It's good for technology, for NASA, and for the U.S. economy," said Nona Minnifield Cheeks, Chief of the IPP Office at NASA Goddard.